Truly exceptional performance pieces on the independent pictures circuit are not as easy to find as some critics or purveyors of Sundance would have you believe. Most that get hawked end up being really too specific to a particular subject matter for my tastes, and they lack a real-world charm along with a real-world situation to be honestly memorable. Again, this isn’t always the case, but, as the true indie circuit has started more and more to embrace mainstream story conventions, a great stand-out piece performed by an actor tends to get lost in the shuffle or completely ignored in favor of the latest ‘indie’ love-fest or political tripe.
FROM THE HEAD boasts a solid central performance by George Griffith. It may not change anyone’s life, and it may not break down any barriers in our civilization, but it’s a straight forward presentation of a man who – whether he chooses to believe it or not – finds himself in conflict with who he is and what he has become despite his ongoing insistence that he’s alright with everything.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
For the last three years, “Shoes” (played/directed/written by George Griffith) is the men’s bathroom attendant at a big city strip club. Each night, he meets and greets and treats a growing assortment of oddball characters as they venture in and out of his ‘office.’ While constantly enduring the assaults and insults of the patrons and his coworkers, “Shoes” appears perfectly happy doing what he does and being who he is, though underneath he’s suffering the honest craving to do something more with his life.
There’s plenty to like about FROM THE HEAD. Like the indie pictures of old (1980’s and early 90’s), it’s all about character, and there’s more life and lives stuffed into this 90-plus minute pictures than most flicks get in twice that time. At the center of it all is the affable “Shoes,” a somewhat down-on-his-luck nice guy who’s tragically enslaved by his nice guy ways. Throughout his shift, different men (and women) come into and out of his workspace, and he has the singular duty of making small talk with all of them … the jerks, the twits, the confused, the borderline psychotic, the friendly, the rich, the poor, and the drunk. With each, he trades a few barbs, along with whatever life wisdom he chooses to impart, all with the hopes of making a few bucks in the pursuit of honest capitalism.
It’s amazing how effortlessly Griffith – as the writer, director, and star – makes it all work. Each patron is a little bit different from the rest, and the topics range from the usual life pursuits to the undefinably banal to what really goes on in the backrooms of a strip club. There’s even a breath of conflict as “Shoes” keeps the peace with men who might be off-their-rocker, perhaps bordering on narcissistic violence as well as some bad blood between him and his brother. All-in-all, in an interesting portrait of life from a unique position must very well look like. Granted, I thought it dragged a bit long in the final reel, but it was always relentlessly interesting, and it had plenty to say about the human condition.
And, to top it all off, you’ll never believe how many men didn’t wash their hands!
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that the film won the Best Feature Award for the 2011 Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, and it served as an Official Selection of the 2012 Soho International Film Festival (NYC).
FROM THE HEAD is produced by FROM THE HEAD. DVD distribution is being handled by Breaking Glass Pictures. As for the technical specifications … ouch! I was provided with a DVD screener copy (for those who don’t know, this is an authorized copy usually run off by the distributor and provided to reviewers who make a request), and, sorry to say, it was awful. The general look of the picture was as if it had been shot on an early generation i-Phone and then blown up for the silver screen; there was constant graininess along with what appeared to be some digital interference infrequently. Most of the audio was solid – the opening sequence had an unusual hollowness, and I wonder if it was dubbed in post (poorly) afterwards. Whatever the case, I’m obligated to mention it as I don’t know if this will also be part of the finished product, but I hope not. Lastly, there were no special features on the disc I was provided; an audio commentary from Griffith would’ve been nice AND appropriate, given his closeness to the subject matter.
RECOMMENDED. Under other circumstances, I’d probably be giving FROM THE HEAD a solid five stars because I liked it, I liked its mishmash of characters and situations, and – generally speaking – I liked what it said about one man’s life, his work, his acquaintances, etc. It’s a nice film – it doesn’t necessarily ‘go’ anywhere, but it’s really not meant to … at least no farther than it does. Also, there’s a virtuoso performance at the heart of the picture by George Griffith that deserves some attention. Unfortunately, the video was so awful that it heavily impacted by ability to enjoy what I was seeing; I can only hope the version released to the general marketplace is cleaned up considerably, or the rioters might be back at their retailers with pitchforks in their hands!
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Breaking Glass Pictures provided me with an advance DVD screener of FROM THE HEAD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.